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Business is increasingly fast-paced, and the modern workplace is constantly in a state of flux.
The debate is on as to whether the team has replaced the “I” in working environments. Are most task projects now completed as a team or as a lone ranger?
When designing offices, interior architects are focused on creating collaborative spaces as opposed to individual spaces. It is all about bringing people together and enhancing communication.
Gone are the days when people worked alone in isolated spaces. Indeed, open plan design has replaced individual offices. Easy access to information has meant that people are working more closely together.
At MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, researchers have identified the elusive group dynamics that characterise high-performing teams. These teams are blessed with the energy, creativity and shared commitment which allows them to trump their competitors.
Researchers also found that leading and managing teams is not an art but a science, in which the dynamics are observable, quantifiable and measurable. And, most important, teams can be taught how to strengthen these dynamics.
An office needs to be able to support how and where teams work. The office needs to provide the base for building up the right teams and allowing them to interact and work together. It is also more important to establish how teams communicate, rather than what they are communicating about.
Therefore, space and technology must encourage and allow people to communicate and interact with one another. Employees need to feel comfortable in their space, have ownership of it, and be able to move about as they need to.
For example, if I want to have a private conversation on my telephone or with another staff member, I need to be able to. If I want to sit as a team, I need an innovative space in which to do so.
Often this isn’t your typical meeting room space, but rather an inspiring, fun space where team members can meet and strategise.
Ultimately, offices need to create spaces that encourage staff to interact. Studies were carried out by Harvard Business Review in which managers of various institutions allowed their employees to have their tea time together.
The change had a major effect on teamwork and interaction. Rather than the institution’s work ethic declining, communication flourished, which was not what had been anticipated.
Coffee breaks allow staff members to interact and “eavesdrop” on what other departments are busy with, and thereby to feel a part of the company.
Belonging to a company and feeling part of the team are crucial to success for any employee. When one has a sense of belonging, it encourages an employee to give back to their company, rather than just doing what’s required.
The Harvard Business Review study also showed that social time turned out to be critical to team performance, often accounting for more than 50 percent of positive changes in communication patterns. So when offices are planned, it is important to look at the flow of the staff members, not only around their working areas, but also in the entire office, so as to encourage easy communication.
Often variables such as acoustics are left out. When an office is noisy, it creates an environment where it is hard to hear or concentrate. Subconsciously, it leads to underperformance and reduced productivity.
The HBR studies also showed that huge benefits were gained by forcing strangers to interact. Coffee and lunch areas in offices can add immense value. They allow people to spend time in other areas, within the working environment. Without meaning to, employees end up meeting and socialising with new people, encouraging them to explore, discover and engage – ultimately adding more value to the company.
l Linda Trim is sales and marketing director of Giant Leap interior architects. Contact them at 011 880 1490, or visit www.giantleap.co.za.